The late fall & winter have put a damper on my quest to visit all thirty-eight properties owned by Historic New England in a one year time frame, as many of the homes close in October and don’t open again until the spring. So, I’ve been stalking their website to plan out when specific homes open, and I was happy to see that the Lyman Estate is open every third Sunday of the month during the winter. The Lyman Estate is a “two-for-one” type of visit, where you can tour the Federal Style home built in 1793, but also the greenhouse which dates back to 1798. My husband is a landscaper, so I knew he would be interested in that portion of the estate if nothing else. I marked my calendar and we planned our visit!
I will be writing two separate posts on the Lyman Estate, one on the Greenhouse & Grounds and another on the home itself!
- The Lyman Estate was built in 1793 by Theodore Lyman, a successful ship merchant who wanted to build a country summer home outside of Boston but within a days travel from their Beacon Hill home. He settled on the farm town of Waltham, choosing a property that had over 37 acres, as it was popular within the Boston elite to not only build a mansion in the country, but to also include “pleasure gardens” and a working farm.
- The Lyman Estate Greenhouses are some of the oldest surviving in the United States. A “pit” greenhouse was built in 1798, followed by an addition in 1804 for citrus fruits, another addition in 1820 for a Camellia house, then again in the 1840s for orchids, and lastly their cutting flower greenhouse was added in the 1930’s.
- Theodore Lyman hired William Bell, a well reputed english gardner. Bell designed the property in an “English picturesque” style, which included open fields & rolling hills, multiple ponds, early specimens of trees and plants that were being newly introduced to the United States, a kitchen garden area and of course the greenhouse complex.
- The original “pit” greenhouse was actually heated with a firebox & flue that ran the entire length of the greenhouse in order to keep the plants sustained through the cold New England winters.
- During the last years of the Lyman family owning the estate, the greenhouse fell into disrepair. In partnership with Historic New England, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society helped restore the greenhouses and retain the varied collection of plants and flowers it housed. Today you can not only visit the greenhouse, but purchase many different plants (many of which are unusual) and also take different educational classes & seminars.
My Favorite Spots
Once you head into the backyard of the mansion, you are greeted by a six hundred foot brick wall, which was part of William Bell’s original design. This wall was used for espaliering peaches; a method used to control growth and produce more fruit by essentially tying branches to a frame or wall (similar to a trellis). While over the years the original peach trees were removed, new ones have been planted and I’m sure will be gorgeous come spring. They also used the garden area in front of the peaches to grow fruits and vegetables, which was “fenced off” by boxwood bushes (which most animals do not like the smell of, and would therefore leave the fruits & veggies behind it alone). I was intrigued by the breaks in the wall and the small porches (romantically envisioning a secret garden of sorts behind it), but later found out that behind this wall were many acres once owned by the Lymans where they kept a herd of imported spotted deer. Well then!
Obviously a favorite spot, right? While I’d bet these greenhouses are gorgeous year round, there was something about stepping inside on a cold February day to be greeted with the smell of spring, the warmth of summer and the hundreds and hundreds of blooming flowers. As you walk from connected greenhouse to greenhouse, make sure to check out the signs throughout that indicate when that portion was built and was it was built for. Many of the larger, more established plants have been there almost a century or longer, including the fancy imported grapes that came from a former palace of King Henry VIII (which only the adults in the estate were allowed to eat, they were so precious!), the Camellias, and more. I loved seeing the combination of brick, glass & greenery. One of my favorite sights that I could photograph forever.
European Copper Beech Tree
When I started this blog, I promised there would be no photos of me on it – and I plan to keep it that way….as often as I can. However, at the time I didn’t realize what I was standing next to (other than a humongous tree) and my husband wanted me there for scale of size. This is one of the infamous European Copper Beech Trees imported to the property back in the 1820’s, which was one of only a few original trees at the estate to survive a hurricane back in 1938. It’s mammoth in size – and I particularly liked the “toes” it had for roots!
Again, an obvious choice. But, prior to my overuse of #TheHistoricNewEnglandProject, my other favorite hashtag was #BackYardStroll where I would wander my own backyard and take photos of all the gorgeous flowers we had blooming at the moment. So, this combination of greenhouse & historic mansion was particularly perfect for me. So many gorgeous plants to admire!
- After gawking over the gorgeous Camellia’s, we turned around to see a fuzzy black head with green eyeballs sleepily peering from behind a large display of plants. Say hello to the friendly black cat who soaks up all the greenhouse warmth if you see him – he’s friendly!
- One section of the greenhouse was built specifically to grow fruits – citrus, figs, pineapples, bananas and more. We spotted oranges, limes & pomegrantes on our visit!
- While it wasn’t exactly planned that way, our visit coincided with the blooming of the Camellias (January thru March if I’m not mistaken). Some of these plants are over one hundred years old, which is incredible. There were different shapes and shades of colors, with one of my favorites being the dark red (looking almost dahlia-like) and another being a variegated white & pink, which reminded me of “We’re panting the roses red!” From “Alice In Wonderland”. My husband had no idea what I was talking about. So pretty!
- I honestly don’t think there can be a bad time of year to visit these greenhouses or the grounds! Obviously, going in February, we were excited to see some plant life and soak in some warmth from the greenhouses, but did miss out on the majority of the rest of the landscape which includes azaleas, rhododendrons & more. It all depends on what you want to see!
- The greenhouse has separate operating hours & parking lot, so if you are not interested in the mansion or it is not open, you can likely still visit the Greenhouse and wander the grounds a bit! However, I would always double check their hours as they host many events and weddings, and there are times when non-event attendees are likely not allowed on property.
- There is a wheelchair entrance to the greenhouse, but it appeared you would only be able to see one or two sections as there are stairs and steps throughout. Also good to know if you plan to bring a stroller for the kiddos!